We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of the Plastic Problem

According to a new Greenpeace USA report, most plastic cannot even be recycled. Out of the 51 million tons of plastic waste produced by the U.S. in 2021, only about 2.4 million tons were actually recycled. And what happened to the rest? Sent to China, the dump, or, quite probably, the ocean.

Companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever may have tried to paint recycling as the answer to the plastic waste problem. But the reality is that they have been working with industry front groups to lead popular opinion toward a flawed solution. In actuality, plastic waste is extremely difficult to collect, hard to sort for recycling, and environmentally harmful to reprocess (watch this video to learn more). Not to mention most plastic is made of or contaminated by toxic materials, which makes it unsafe and expensive to repurpose. But why would companies focus on the real solution to the plastic waste problem, when they can get others to pay the cost?

The real way to resolve the problem of plastic waste is to stop producing it. But considering 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels, an industry that continues to jeopardize the future of the planet for the pursuit of profits, are we really surprised? Plus, do we really expect companies to suddenly stop producing harmful single-use products when the plastic industry is expected to triple production by 2050?

The data is clear: if we want to stop filling our landfills, seas, and streets with plastic, then plastic needs to go. But if we want the production of plastic to end, we also need to get rid of the profit motive that motivates these companies to produce it in the first place. For the sake of our planet, it’s time to put the system of capitalism into the waste bin of history.